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Bridesmaids bond through downward dog

Friday - 10/12/2012, 10:23am  ET

Bride-to-be Amanda Merrill celebrated her bachelorette party in August with a champagne toast at Epic Yoga in Dupont Circle. More bridal parties are practicing yoga to get in shape and relax before the big day. (Courtesy of Sarah Stout)
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Stephanie Steinberg,

WASHINGTON - After a private Epic Yoga class in Dupont Circle, bride-to-be Amanda Merrill and her 14 friends sat on the studio's wood floor, dining out of Whole Foods lunch boxes and celebrating Merrill's surprise bachelorette party with champagne and cupcakes.

The women stretched, bent and balanced the day after Merrill's bridal shower during a wedding weekend in August.

"The class really allowed me to be in the moment during a weekend that was so emotionally overwhelming," says Merrill, 26, of Lancaster, Pa.

Drinks, dancing and an unforgettable night on the town may make for a typical bachelorette party. But more bridesmaids in the District are trading miniskirts for spandex and dance floors for squishy mats as they bond in downward dog. Warrior poses and sun salutations also help reduce pre-wedding stress and tone muscles bridesmaids want to show off in strapless dresses.

"(Yoga) is a really great alternative to going out and overeating and overdrinking when everybody is really trying to be healthy and lose weight before the wedding," says Live Beyond the Mat yoga instructor Rebecca Bly, 31, of D.C.

Besides hosting yoga bachelorette parties, more brides are seeking yoga instructors to lead personal classes for themselves and their bridesmaids.

Saba Quereshi, a yoga instructor at Vida Fitness in D.C., says wedding yoga classes are a hot new trend in the capital.

"It's a big thing in New York that's starting to catch in D.C.," she says.

Quereshi, 29, is teaching private yoga classes for bridal parties in weddings next spring and fall. During the winter, she says she's going to focus on poses that target the core and arms body parts hidden under layers in the cold but bound to resurface in the spring.

"Most dresses are sleeveless and a lot of girls tend to get insecure with that area," she says, adding that yoga can be a confidence booster because "it helps women become more comfortable in their own skin."

The ancient practice can help a bride fit into her wedding dress - as well as ease anxiety about the caterer, florist and venue - but yoga instructors say it also helps bridesmaids get to know each other before the wedding.

"A lot of times bridesmaids may not know each other because they come from different areas of the bride's life," Bly says. "(Yoga) is a really nice way to bring the wedding party together so that the women can bond with each other."

In one bachelorette party, Bly paired bridesmaids for "partner yoga" so they could stretch, relax and practice poses together.

"That inevitably ends in a lot of giggles and falling down on the floor," she says.

Jenny Barker, 36, of Adams Morgan in Northwest D.C., attended the same yoga bachelorette party. She says she's been to bachelorette parties where the girls "let loose," but doing yoga with the bride and her friends was more meaningful.

"You can share your happiness and your joy in a quiet moment as opposed to doing it in a bigger, and louder and more raucous way," Barker says.

Natasha Hennessy, owner of Pure Prana Yoga Studio in Arlington, Va., leads classes for bridal parties a few times a year. In one class, a bridesmaid said a pose reminded her of an experience she and the bride had together growing up. Hennessy took advantage of the moment to position the group in a circle, so all the women could share personal stories of the bride.

"That was a spontaneous element that was pretty lovely," says Hennessy, who has taught yoga the past 13 years.

Depending on the number of people and the length of a session, many local yoga centers charge about $20 a person for a private wedding class. They also allow bachelorette parties to decorate the studio with flowers, balloons and streamers. Pure Prana had a bridal party string up white twinkling lights, while another served chocolate-dipped strawberries with champagne post-workout. One bride asked Yoga for Weddings for a 1920s theme, so founder Lisa Helfer Elghazi devised a "breatheeasy" - instead of "speakeasy."

Los Angeles-based Yoga for Weddings has instructors available for hire for destination weddings and bachelorette parties in nine states. Often, couples ask for a class with their family and friends the day before the wedding or a few hours before the rehearsal dinner.

"You do work up a sweat so you want to have time to shower before you change into nice clothes," Elghazi says.

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